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Manning, Colts worry new NFL rule will have negative consequences

MINNEAPOLIS -- Odd, sort of, to be reviewing the most important week of the preseason and writing mainly about the impact of an officiating decision. But the most intriguing event of the third round of games has to do with officiating, and the effect of moving the umpire from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball so he won't be such a defenseless target in the middle of pass patterns.

I don't want to be too dramatic about it, but it's a virtual certainty that the rule will have far more impact on the Colts than on any other team in football. They won't be able to run their no-huddle offense with the same speed. And the triggerman knows it.

Peyton Manning thinks back to the Patriots-Colts game last November -- the Belichick No-Punt Game -- and is sure that game would have ended differently if the new ump rule was in place.

"If we had this rule last year,'' Manning said Saturday night, "there's no way we catch up in that New England game. We were down, what, 21 points in the fourth quarter? We wouldn't have had enough time to run enough plays to catch up. But forget about that game. Let's chart all the comeback wins where a team runs the hurry-up in the fourth quarter. How many of those games would have ended up the same way -- or would the quarterbacks have had enough time to run enough plays to come back and win?''

To recap the new rule: The umpire traditionally was the official who most often spotted the ball, then scurried back about five yards behind the defensive line of scrimmage to watch the play unfold. But last year, keeping with the recent tradition of physical plays against the ump because he was the center of a bunch of offensive crossing routes, there were approximately 100 collisions between players and umps. Three of those resulted in concussions. One resulted in an umpire needing shoulder surgery, and another ump need knee surgery after being knocked down.

The Competition Committee, backed by Commissioner Roger Goodell, deemed it a safety issue, so the ump was assigned to a spot about 15 yards behind the offensive line of scrimmage, on the opposite side of where the referee is stationed. The lone exception to the rule happens in the last two minutes of each half, when the league, in a nod to the possibility of teams running a hurry-up offense, will station the umps in their traditional spot, so as not to interfere with the offensive rhythm in a two-minute drill.

Problem is, lots of teams use the two-minute drill at times other than in the last two minutes of the half of a game. The Colts aren't alone, but they are the poster children for mastery of the quick calls and hurry-up pace.

On Sunday I asked the new NFL vice president of officiating, Carl Johnson, about Manning's claim that teams can't run hurry-up offensive series the same way they have in recent years. Which is to say, in a hurry.

"The way the new mechanic of the umpire positioning is, I don't have a resolution to that,'' said Johnson. "It's going to take a couple extra seconds to spot the ball. There's no way around that. But this is a work in progress. We're aggressively seeking ways to improve the mechanics.''

Do the math. An umpire traditionally is a stocky guy, to withstand the physicality of the position. Imagine if a team goes into the no-huddle and runs, say, seven straight plays of hurry-up, and the ump has to run in, spot the ball and then run back 12 to 15 yards. First of all, these big guys are going to be absolutely gassed. Secondly, they're going to slow the game down.

Many, many issues. One: Shouldn't the umpires now be the ones in the best physical condition, not the biggest men on the crew? I think if the league sticks with the ump behind the offense, the physical dimensions of the umpire will be altered with a nod toward a guy who can run all day. "I worry about the umpires' conditioning,'' said Indy GM Bill Polian, also a Competition Committee member. And from being on the phone about this since Thursday night, he's not the only one who worried that the current average-sized umpire is not the ideal physical specimen to be doing the job the way it's defined now.

Two: Why do the umps have to be the ones who have to spot the ball? Johnson told me they don't, and crews have been alerted that other officials, for expediency's sake, can also spot it, depending where the play ends.

Three: Why does an ump have to be so far behind the line of scrimmage on the offensive side? Johnson said he doesn't; one of the tweaks already made to the system says that as soon the umpire is behind the back or quarterback -- whoever is furthest back from the line -- the quarterback can snap the ball without penalty.

Four: Why is the "false start -- snap infringement'' penalty even called? Why not simply just do the play over? Johnson said if there was no penalty in place, then there'd be nothing to stop a quarterback from hustling to snap the ball on the edge of the rules. If the passer knew he'd be able to do the play over regardless, then why not try to play hurry-up?

Thursday night in Green Bay, the Colts twice got called for "false start -- snap infringement'' for snapping the ball before umpire Garth DeFelice had returned to his position. Once it was because the Colts' Anthony Gonzalez made a questionable reception, and Manning was hustling to the line to try to force the hand of Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy to either use one of his replay challenges or, if he didn't, to get the next play off quickly so the catch would stand. "So not only do we get penalized,'' said Manning, "but now McCarthy has plenty of time to decide whether to challenge the play or not.''

Polian's view on the infringement penalty is an interesting one. He thinks a game with a slower or older ump trying to keep up with a quick-snapping offense could be significantly affected. "I am dead-set against the penalty,'' said Polian. "It is insane. If I knew it would be this way, I'd have voted against it, and not only that, I'd have crusaded against it.''

One other interesting issue here. The NFL has created one way of ump-positioning for 56 minutes and one way for the final two minutes of each half. In a way, the league is saying, We're concerned about umpire safety, but we're still going to allow 10 or 12 plays a game, on average, to be snapped with the umps in harm's way. "It's like you saying to your kids, 'Don't touch that!' '' said Manning. "Then you say, 'Well, you can touch it a couple of times.' '' The league's trying to straddle the fine line of not affecting the game too much with the health of officials. It's a tough call.

There will be a third conference call this week with the members of the Competition Committee and Johnson to determine what further tweaks to make in the system. This much is known: The NFL is not going back to the old way of umpire-positioning. That's for sure. Goodell can't say he's concerned about umpire safety, change a rule, then change it back without letting it play out in a regular season.

On Sept. 10, two days before the first Sunday of the regular season, the league's 17 umpires and 17 referees will meet in Dallas with Johnson to discuss the new system and whether there might be some little tweaks the rank-and-file can suggest to make it a cleaner adjustment. (It'll be interesting to see if Saints coach Sean Payton pushes the envelope in the first game of the season, the night before this officiating summit in Texas. I hope Johnson assigns the most physically fit ump to that Thursday night game.)

For now, I can see some mayhem on the horizon. Indianapolis opens the season at Houston, and the Texans have the ability to play pinball football, scoring early and often. If the Colts find themselves down double-digits in the fourth quarter, I can see Manning wanting to go to a quick-snap set (he might want to in the middle of the second quarter; who knows?) and being frustrated by the pace of the officials.

Usually the NFL has a good officiating controversy two or three times a year. I don't remember one in August before.

Before I move on to the other news of the week, let's look at Manning's point about the Patriots game last year, to see if he's right.

I examined Manning's point about the big comeback last November to see about the quick no-huddle he ran. Let say, for the sake of argument, that the re-positioning of the umpire would have taken an additional five seconds per play, with the obvious proviso that on incomplete passes or on plays when the clock was stopped you wouldn't add the additional four seconds. Would the Colts have actually had enough time to rebound from a 31-14 deficit with 14 minutes to play to win? They had 16 plays. Eight of them were live-ball plays, with the clock running at the end. Considering that Manning bled the clock in the last drive of the game, inside the two-minute warning, it's a stretch to think that 40 seconds would have doomed the Colts that night ... though it's possible the Patriots, rested and able to react better to his fast-paced offense, would have made some defensive plays to stop the Colts on one of the three scoring drives.

Now onto the headlines of the weekend:

Brett Favre: He's already taking injections in his wounded ankle.

After his so-so eight series Saturday night on the hard floor of Mall of America Field (I prefer to call it the Metrodome, because that's what we know it to be), Favre went into the trainers' room in the Vikes' locker room and got an injection of lubricant in the left ankle that has three times been operated on to remove loose bodies. "Like a grease fitting,'' he said.

Noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews did the most recent surgery May 22, with an interested party in the operating theater: Deanna Favre. "They took out a cup full of stuff -- bone and all these other loose bodies,'' Brett Favre said Saturday night. "Deanna watched and told me, 'If you don't feel a lot better, I'll be shocked.''

Favre feels better, but not really that good. He explained the arthroscopic procedure that happened in May and what's happened since. He said Dr. Andrews made two incisions on the top of his left ankle, where the ankle flexes above the foot, and sucked out the loose bodies. He said Dr. Andrews wasn't surprised a significant spur returned when Favre went for a re-exam a month ago -- but he was surprised it happened so fast. The Vikings will attempt to manage the pain the spur brings on, but Favre said he didn't think he'd take any painkillers stronger than Motrin.

"It's catching up with me, all this stuff,'' said Favre, who turns 41 in October.

"I asked you this a year ago -- Do you think you can last the season?''' I said to Favre. "And you said you didn't know. How about now?''

"I don't know. I have no idea, really," he answered. "My ankle just seems to get easier to sprain. I know everyone thinks the New Orleans game [the NFC Championship Game] killed me, but it was bad before then. Now we'll see if I can make it. My mind's telling me one thing, but my body's telling me something else.''

I've said this all along: This ankle thing's a little different that the weariness he felt a year ago. There could come a time where his mobility is so compromised that Favre won't be able to get out of the way of the rush consistently. It wouldn't surprise me if the ankle knocked him out for a few games this year.

***

Katrina at Age 5: Maybe Mickey Loomis should be executive of the decade.

I'm exaggerating a bit there. The Saints certainly weren't the dominant force of Indianapolis or New England in the past 10 years. Not even close. But if the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series next year, wouldn't you give them three times the credit of any other team for winning such a series?

On the five-year anniversary of Katrina, I reminisced about something I really think helped revitalize such an important city. I was in New Orleans for the first draft after the hurricane, in April 2006, and I interviewed mayor Ray Nagin about the meaning of the Saints to the city. In almost a pleading voice, he said if the Saints could just give the beleaguered city one year, or maybe two, just a little time to get back on its feet, that would be a godsend. That's how sure everyone in the city was that the Saints were leaving. Now, exactly five years after Katrina, the Saints are not leaving New Orleans. They've signed a lucrative extension to stay through 2025. Fans fly in from around the country to see home games. The team is a happening.

I hope, in the eyes of the city and country, people realize why. So much of it occurred as a direct result of the significant home runs Loomis hit. At the end of the 2005 season, Loomis and the front office, orphans because of Katrina, were working in the Sewage and Water Building in San Antonio. They'd been evicted from the Alamodome, and the team was practicing in a parking lot for the last two weeks of the season because of a Home and Garden show and then a state volleyball tournament in the Dome. I remember going there. What a circus. When the season ended, in an office regulating underwater pipes in San Antonio, Loomis plotted the future of the football team. In the next four months, here's what he did:

• Jan. 2, 2006: Loomis, given the leeway to do so by owner Tom Benson, fires head coach Jim Haslett.

• Jan. 18, 2006: Loomis, given by the same leeway by Benson, hires Sean Payton as head coach.

• March 14, 2006: Loomis signs quarterback Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million deal.

• April 29, 2006: Loomis drafts USC running back Reggie Bush in the first round, all-pro guard Jahri Evans in the fourth, and Pro Bowl wide receiver Marques Colston in the seventh.

I have a particular affection for New Orleans, having worked for Habitat for Humanity a couple of times there over the years and loving every trip I've ever taken there. A lot of people have contributed to the recovery of the city, and the Saints have been vital. I am in no way attempting to ascribe too much importance to sports. But whatever the Saints have accomplished, Loomis is at the core.

Antonio Bryant: What a stupid signing.

One NFL medical person -- don't want to be too specific -- told me Sunday that the injury that is apparently plaguing fired Cincinnati wideout Antonio Bryant could be Chondral Defect of the knee. "If you're not looking for it, you won't find it,'' this official said. "It's a long-term knee problem that won't go away.'' The ailment refers to a complicated cartilage injury to the knee. Whether that's the exact injury plaguing Bryant or not, it's incredible that a team investigating a free-agent wide receiver who missed most of 2009 with a knee problem would have passed him on the physical this year, handed him a four-year, $28 million contract, and then watched as he practiced one time all summer in training camp before cutting him Sunday.

I'm stunned the Bengals passed Bryant on his physical, then handed him $7.85 million in guarantees. Stunned. Whether the Bengals have good players in reserve at wide receiver -- they do -- is not the point. Wasting millions on a player clearly not ready to play is.

In the past two years, the Bengals have signed two veteran receivers to deals averaging $7 million a year. Laveranues Coles gave them a year. Antonio Bryant didn't make it out of his first August with the team. Good thing they've got the draft, because Jermaine Gresham (first round) should be an impact tight end for them and Jordan Shipley (third round) is set to be a solid slot guy. And they got Terrell Owens cheap. He'll probably start alongside Chad Ochocinco. I just can't figure out why they blew it two years in a row on receivers no other teams were very interested in.

***

Adalius Thomas: "I'm definitely not done. I definitely want to play.''

So when I was in Jets camp earlier this month, I got the distinct impression from Rex Ryan that the Jets were interested in Adalius Thomas, and he had no interest in them. Or anyone. The Jets reached out and got no interest in return. So on Saturday, when a Twitter follower asked me about it, I responded that the Jets thought Thomas had no interest in playing.

Since I'd lost my phone in May, there went Thomas' number somewhere at the bottom of the Potomac (or somewhere in D.C.), and it wasn't 'til Saturday afternoon that I heard from him.

"That is ridiculous,'' he said. "If they called me, I'd definitely call them back. All I know is [GM] Mike Tannenbaum called my agent [Bus Cook] a couple of days ago and they're interested in maybe doing something with me -- but not until after the first game of the season.''

The prospect of that didn't thrill Thomas, for obvious reasons. If a veteran is on a team's roster in Week 1, he's guaranteed his salary for the season. If a player signs in Week 2, a team can cut him at any time and be obligated only for whatever the guaranteed portion of the contract there is.

Thomas told me he and Rex Ryan did speak this weekend, and though nothing was remotely imminent, he hoped to sign with the Jets. He had good success under Ryan, the former Baltimore defensive coordinator, as a utility kind of player -- he played all over the defense, covering the former Chad Johnson in 2005 in a Baltimore-Cincinnati game. But in New England, he never found a niche in three years and clashed with Bill Belichick. In his three seasons, he forced two fumbles and had 14.5 sacks. Not the impact New England wanted in return for its investment.

"I don't know if teams are scared off about me now or if I've been blackballed,'' Thomas said. "I do think there're teams out there I'd be a good fit for -- the Jets especially.''

***

Stafon Johnson: "God don't put nothin' on my plate I can't eat.''

"Don't feel sorry for me,'' Stafon Johnson said over the phone from the Titans trainers' room the other day. "My story's not a sob story.''

Sure seems it to me. Last September, the USC running back was lifting weights in the football program's weight room, and a bar with 275 pounds in the bench press came crashing down on his neck. His larynx was crushed. If not for the football strength in his neck, the bar might have broken it. But he survived, and the former mid-round prospect got a free-agent invitation to Titans camp this year. Coach Jeff Fisher, a Trojan himself, was so excited for the first preseason game this year, in Seattle, that he conferenced with the game officials before the game and told them he wanted to be sure that after the first carry of the game by Johnson, the officials took the ball out of play and sent it to the Tennessee sideline. "After all the kid has been through, I want him to have that ball,'' Fisher told the crew.

Johnson made a nifty move on his first carry midway through the second quarter, gaining six. The ball was tossed to the sideline, put in an equipment box by the Titans. Late in the third quarterback, he caught a pass and tried to get away from two Seahawks, and he was tackled, and his leg twisted awkwardly.

"I don't remember too much.'' Johnson said. "But I looked down and my knee was facing coach Fish, and my foot toward the pylon. I figured I was in trouble.''

He broke his leg and dislocated his ankle. His first thought, he said, was "Why? Why now?'' But he said that by the end of the night, "I was thanking God that I was here. I went from being almost deceased to being in the NFL, playing in an NFL game.''

When the team gathered in the locker room, Fisher spoke. "Life's not fair sometimes,'' he said, and he went on to tell the players about the ball he had for Johnson, and he told his players to go into the trainers room and be with Johnson.

"We're not getting rid of him,'' said Fisher, though Johnson was waived injured, then placed on injured-reserved for the season. "He had very successful surgery, and he'll be back with us next year in camp. I expect him to have a good shot.''

That he should. He'll only have all of America rooting for him.

"It's Ho-OH-ma-NOW-uh-noo-ee.''-- St. Louis rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, explaining to me the correct pronunciation of his last name in the locker room Thursday night.

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo calls him "Illinois Mike,'' because, as he says, "I have no chance at that name.'' He'll have to call him something. Hoomanawanui caught two touchdown passes against the Patriots and has been one of the big stars of Rams training camp.

If you're doing a Rams game on TV or radio this fall, media folks, he's not the only rookie tight end with a weird handle. Illinois Mike was drafted in the fifth round. Fendi Onobun went off the board in round six, and he has a bright future too.

"I feel good. If I can bounce back from this, what a book it'll be for my kids.''-- Seattle running back Leon Washington, who started for the Seahawks Saturday night as he tried to rebound from a grotesque broken leg suffered last year while playing for the Jets against Oakland.

"Stylez is my Allen Iverson ... We're going to tolerate him 'til we can replace him.''-- Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, on his tough-to-coach defensive end with the manufactured name, Stylez G. White.

"Let him open up his friggin' pizza shop in the Bronx and leave me alone.''-- Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, on the HBO show Wednesday night, on oft-injured special-teamer Brashton Satele.

In other words: I can't trust this guy to stay healthy or to play competently, so please, Mike Tannenbaum, get him out of my sight.

Anyone else find this weird? Bill Belichick, with 163 victories in 15 seasons, is 14th on the all-time NFL coaching wins list.

Coaches 11 through 13 are all Hall of Famers (Joe Gibbs 171, Paul Brown 170, Bud Grant 168).

Coaches 6 through 10 are all not Hall of Famers (Marty Schottenheimer 205, Dan Reeves 201, Chuck Knox 193, Bill Parcells 183 and Mike Holmgren 174).

Of course, because coaches aren't eligible until five years after their final year on the sideline, Holmgren and Schottenheimer can't be in yet. Holmgren will be eligible in 2014, Schottenheimer in 2012. Parcells was eligible before the waiting-period rule went into effect, and four years he fell short of selection. Parcells, like Schottenheimer, will be up in 2012.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Seniors Committee -- a five-member sub-panel of the 44-member selection group -- met in Canton Wednesday and emerged with two candidates for election to the Hall in February 2011: former Washington linebacker Chris Hanburger -- a nine-time Pro Bowl pick and five-year defensive signal-caller for coach George Allen -- and former Rams guard/linebacker/kicker Les Richter.

You'd have to be in your 60s to remember Richter, who last played pro football in 1962. You might actually know him as the former director of operations for NASCAR. He died in June.

But he goes down in history for being the man in the most interesting trade in NFL history. In 1951, the struggling New York Yankees of the NFL finished 1-9-2 and were on the brink of insolvency. With the second pick in the 1952 draft, the Yanks picked Richter, a big college star from the University of California. But owner Ted Collins soon sold the franchise back to the league, which assigned the franchise to Dallas. And in June 1952, the Texans traded Richter to the Los Angeles Rams for 11 players: running backs Dick Hoerner, Billy Bagget, Dave Anderson and Dick McKissack; defensive backs Tom Keane and George Sims; offensive linemen Aubrey Phillips, Joe Reid and Jack Halliday, linebacker Vic Vasicek and two-way end Richard Wilkins.

Four running backs!

The best player Dallas got back was Keane. Though the Texans folded in mid-1953 and were relocated to Baltimore the next year, Keane played superbly in those two moving-van seasons, with 10 interceptions in 1952 and 11 in 1953, when he was voted one of two all-pro safeties.

Back to Richter. Imagine you're the Rams, and you deal 11 players for this one player -- and then Richter tells you he's enlisting in the military. That's what he did, serving two years in the Army before taking the field, finally, for Los Angeles in 1954. He played nine years, eight of them ending in Pro Bowl nods.

Interesting that this wasn't the biggest NFL deal in the fifties. In 1953, Cleveland and Baltimore made a 15-player trade. One of the Browns traveling to Baltimore: defensive back Don Shula.

On a Delta flight from Boston to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, I was sitting on the aisle in coach, my legs snug against the seatback, with an empty seat next to me as the plane filled up. A young man, maybe 25, walked down the aisle, looked at his ticket, looked at the empty seat next to me and, wordlessly, began lifting his leg over my two thighs. The man, whether he could speak English or not, had no intention of motioning for me to stand up so he could get to his seat as a normal human being would.

"Whoa, whoa,'' I said, holding my hand up. "I'll get up.''

I got up, allowed the man into the seat, and sat back down. He didn't say a word to me, nor I to him, for the 2-hour, 17-minute flight.

No big deal, I guess. It's just that ... well, who would naturally think to get in a plane seat by climbing over someone, and clearly touching that person awkwardly while grabbing onto a seatback for support, and jarring the person in that seat?

"Every ump I have talked to this offseason hates the new rule where they have them. All of them felt the way fb players do. Injuries are part''

"Of the position they ref at. One also told me that the comp comm changed the rule without consulting one ump. (Although I'm sure Perrera''

"Had a say) loved what Tirico said. Put a helmet on them if they are concerned. Don't change the way the game is played. Altho if it pisses''

"Manning off, I could learn to deal with it. LOL''

-- @ericwinston, Texans tackle Eric Winston, on the rule moving the umpires from a linebacker's position to about 14 yards behind the offense to avoid umps getting beat around like pinballs.

Newspaper Agate Type I Never Thought I'd See Dept.:

From the sports transactions in Wednesday's Boston Globe:

FOOTBALLNFL: Fined Cincinnati WR Chad Ochocinco $25,000 for Tweeting during a prohibited time.

Of course, Ochocinco didn't respond with a quote, but with a Tweet, saying, in part, "Dad, again I apologize 2 you for my Tweet.'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who is never shy about the Chad nonsense, said with a sigh to the Cincinnati media: "It's just Chad doing something stupid again.''

1. I think I'd be very surprised if commissioner Goodell didn't reduce BenRoethlisberger's suspension from six to four games when they meet in New York Friday. Whether Roethlisberger's turned his life around or not, he seems to have had no blemishes since his second sexual-assault accusation, and Goodell always left open that Roethlisberger would be able to chip two games off the suspension if he toed the line through the offseason and was serious about changing his ways.

2. I think the best note from a practice session I've seen this summer came from Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic (don't mean to put him in every MMQB, but the guy's good), monitoring the combined Cards-Titans practice on Wednesday in Nashville. Before a snap when the Cards' offense stepped to the line of scrimmage, Somers heard a Titans defender say to a teammate: "I got a buffalo nickel that says he checks down.'' In footballese, that translates to: Matt Leinart will always take the easy way out instead of trying to make a play.

3. I think the Leinart yanking shows Ken Whisenhunt didn't trust Leinart in 2007, and he doesn't trust him now. How that trust can be rebuilt is the tough question.

4. I think it's hard to figure out which rookie Jim Schwartz is more excited about -- Jahvid Best or Ndamukong Suh. Best gives the Lions a dimension they just haven't had since (dare I say it?) Barry Sanders. Suh, Schwartz said, "makes some plays in the interior line that Albert Haynesworth would make in his fifth year. He's been amazing.''

5. I think Donovan McNabb has 13 days to get his ankle healthy, and it's hard to believe he wouldn't play opening night against Dallas.

6. I think the Jets had it right the first time -- Jason Taylor's not a 45-play-a-game player anymore. They planned to have him in there maybe 20 before Calvin Pace got hurt. Just because the team has a need now doesn't mean Taylor should fill it. You have to know how to use a 36-year-old rusher, and the way to do it is not to overload him. All the more reason to sign Adalius Thomas and let Rex Ryan move him all over the defense.

7. I think those C.J. Spiller highlights make me hope, for the Bills' sake, that he can play more than the part-time role his history says he should play. At Clemson, Spiller rarely lugged it 20 times a game, and with the punishment he'll take in the NFL, it's unrealistic to expect he'll approach that workload. But he's getting a good shot with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson out of the lineup in Buffalo. If he could have 225 injury-free touches this year, Buffalo fans should be grateful.

8. I think that was not a good night for Tim Tebow, even though it ended with a nice touchdown throw to Eric Decker. Easier said than done, but he needs to get comfortable out there. He looked tight and not so athletic against Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

9. I think the two Mike Williamses, the rookie from Syracuse in Tampa Bay, and the vet trying to make a comeback in Seattle, had interesting Saturdays. I watched the Seattle Williams at the Vikes, and Matt Hasselbeck went to him early and often; you can tell the Seahawks have him built into the game plan, and he'll take the big receiver's role there. The Tampa Williams made a couple of great catch-and-run plays. Too early to make a judgment on the Tampa Williams because of all the baggage in his past, but if Tampa Bay hits on him, imagine the value for the 101st player picked in the draft.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. "Bowden says he was pushed out'' or some such headline was in a lot of papers last week. Whoa! Really? You mean there's anyone out there who thought Bobby Bowden left Florida State voluntarily?

b. The Oakland A's can pitch. Between July 31 and Wednesday, they had a staff ERA of 1.99. I'm not sure what that's a record for, but it's one of the most amazing stats I've read in a long time. No one knows the A's even exist, yet they've had the best pitching, by miles and miles, in the major leagues for nearly a month.

c. Major-league box score line of the week, from Phils-Astros last Tuesday: RHoward 1b 7 0 0 0 0 5. No runs, hits, RBI, walks for Ryan Howard, but he did strike out five times in seven at-bats.

d. Coffeenerdness: I've got to hand it to Caribou Coffee in the Minneapolis airport on Sunday morning at 5:45. You guys make one heck an oatmeal at that hour. Good little latte too. Got me started pretty well on a jammed-up day.

e. The question is no longer whether John Lackey's worth $16 million a year. It's whether he's worth $1.6.

f. Manny. White Sox. Afterthought.

g. Red Sox. Pennant race. 2011.

h. Very good to be with you, Tim Sweeney and company, to support Youth Care, the Boston charity helping kids with Asperger's Syndrome. Good cause. Fun night. Nice striped bass. Thank you.

i. Sorry for the delay in getting the half-marathon fundraising information to you this week. We had some internal issues at SI that I will take care of this week, and I expect to have a webpage up next Monday with all the information you'll need to participate.

j. Good luck at Oberlin, Emma Goldstein. You too at Marquette, Tess Quinlan. And Tess, how long did it take you to know 64 other frosh? Fifteen minutes?

k. I wish I could give you more this morning, folks. The SI mag preview issue, out Tuesday, has kayoed me. Will try to be back longer next week.

l. Did Pete Thamel write the entire New York Times sports section Sunday or what? Bylines from three time zones! That has to be a record, Pete. Good job.

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